Marrying a Real Person, Not an Illusion & Going Through Hell for Faith

I have two pieces up on Christianity Today this week. If you're curious and want to read more, here are some short excerpts and their respective links: 

Get Thee to a Flawed Wife: A letter of encouragement—and realism—to Christian men considering marriage.

To the single men who are considering marriage and feeling hesitant, I issue this invitation from Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman: You do not marry a ministry partner; you marry a person. You do not marry someone like another man’s wife; you marry your wife. You do not marry someone like you; you marry a unique woman. And you do not marry someone perfect, you marry a sinner.

The same goes for women in their search for a husband. After marriage, you are not committed to your call more than you’re committed to the person, husband, man, and sinner before you. Nowhere in Scripture is “pastor’s wife” the attribute of a godly, good wife, nor is “deep theologian” the attribute for a husband. The only four qualities we need to understand in our search for a spouse are littered throughout the Scriptures and true of every married person on earth. (Keep reading.

Jack Deere Went Through Hell to Come to Faith: The theologian’s memoir is refreshingly raw about the wounds he’s suffered—and the wounds he’s inflicted.

This rawness is rare in the church today. We are often told by leaders that they sin, but Deere’s memoir is refreshingly full of his sin. It is not gratuitous in any form. We never get the sense that he wants to gain our pity or empathy to manipulate us into thinking he’s better or worse than he is. He is simply factual (to our knowledge) and unapologetic to his reader, while increasingly more repentant toward those against whom he has sinned—God foremost among them.

In a world where, all too often, leaders present themselves as one-dimensional characters (primarily speakers, teachers, pastors, musicians, or writers), Deere shows us we are irreducibly complex beings. Our bodies matter. Our souls matter. Our minds matter. Our emotions matter. Our histories matter. These together form the whole of who we are, and any true ministry we do out of the whole is going to be wholly complex. Otherwise, it will be anemic, one-dimensional, and devoid of power. Deere recognizes this now. But it took hell to get him there. I haven’t even mentioned the half of it in this review. (Keep reading.)

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God, Make Us Good Question Askers

I'm not allowed to say I married up or my husband is the best of anything (I'll get a talking-to later on if I do.). But let me say this: I really respect him. He gets up every single morning to start his day with Scripture, journaling, and messaging various men with whom he walks. It is rare when he doesn't have the answer to any question I ask him (about politics, history, science, sports, or literature). He reads current events, theology, poetry. He reads about farming, he reads about prayer, and he reads people. 

If you met him it would probably take a long time before you knew any of this about him. He never name drops whatever theologian he's reading or quotes poetry or statistics or how he knows western history like the back of his hand. In most conversations, he's the most quiet. And this bothers me. 

It really, really, really bothers me. I feel irritated often in conversations with others because if they would shut up and let him talk, or even ask him a question, they'd probably learn a thing or two. I've learned more in my three years with him than most of my life beforehand. Most of what I've learned, though, isn't what he knows and has taught me, it's how he is

The other afternoon he and I were having an impassioned conversation (as impassioned as two people with head colds and other maladies can be) about racism, policing, perspective, and the way we talk about all of these things in church culture. I voiced my frustration that he doesn't speak up about his perspective more when we're in the company of others—particularly those who seem to like the sound of their own voices. And he said this, "Sometimes I think asking questions is a better way to dialogue than just giving my perspective." 

The thing about asking questions in conversations, though, is first, all it does is make the other people who are already talking talk more. Second, it doesn't leave much space for him to share his wisdom (which is solid gold if you ask me). And third, it can make most conversations feel unfinished because there's always another question. 

The other thing about asking questions, though, is you learn and, if the questions are wise ones, the person you're asking them of learns too. 

Is being the first to say something worth the cost of being wrong once another states his case? 

Is asking for clarification again and again going to cost us something more than our pride? 

Is asking an X-ray question of someone who might have a limited view on something only helpful for us as the asker, or could it be helpful for them as the speaker? 

Do we really think our perspective is the most right? Or that we don't have more to learn? 

Would we stake our lives on what we're saying? 

Are we willing to say, "I don't know."?

Could asking a question instead of sharing a view, help us toward true reconciliation and peace?

Are we willing to leave more conversations unfinished knowing all of life is a process and none of us have arrived yet?

The folks I've learned the most from are people who've employed the Socratic method. They've asked questions, drilling down eventually to the deepest question, until I am gutted and vulnerable and see the inadequacy of my position or place in all its ugliness. And then those people have come down from their pulpit or platform or across the table, and stood beside me, saying, "I'm in this mess with you. Let's walk forward with more willingness to learn and hear and love and heal together."

My husband does this and he does it so well most people don't even notice he's doing it. They probably leave most conversations feeling heard and loved or maybe they leave thinking they showed him. I don't know. I do know I want to be more like him though. And more like the Christ from whom he learns.

Here are a few of the questions Jesus asked (and here are 135 of them):

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27)
Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)
Do you believe that I am able to do this? (Matthew 9:28)
Do you still not understand? (Matthew 16:9)
What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21)
What do you think? (Matthew 21:28)
Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)
What were you arguing about on the road? (Mark 9:33)
Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25)
What is your name? (Luke 8:30)
Who touched me? (Luke 8:45)

Spring table

We're Sunday People, but Sometimes We're Saturday People too

My first Tenebrae service was less than a decade ago. I said "Excuse me?" to the elder who served me communion because I'd never been served it and certainly never had the words, "The blood of Christ shed for you," accompanying it. In my circles we take communion or pass it, rarely by intinction or only on special occasions. "As often as you do this," has become often and rote and tacked on at the end of the service. A cardboard cracker with a plastic cup of Welch's. 

"My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me," sounded from the balcony and the candles were extinguished one by one by one by one. We who have walked in darkness walked out in darkness that night. 

We all know that Sunday is coming and our Easter best will prove it, pinks and blues and spring greens masking how still dark some of our Easters feel. He is risen, he is risen indeed, but some of us still feel the bleary-eyed darkness of Thursday and Friday and Saturday in our earth encrusted eyes and ears accustomed to nos. I feel like Peter around Easter every year, full of disappointment and denials and "How longs?" and "Surely nots." I feel as he must have felt when Christ rebuked him, called him or the spirit within his words, "Satan," and instructed him behind him. That's the kind of disappointing I think I am to the God of the universe sometimes and Easter doesn't resolve that, no matter how many times we echo "He is risen indeed." 

We who have walked in darkness still sometimes do. 

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I have been thinking about all the nos I've gotten in my life. Hoards of them, echoes and echoes of them, big ones, little ones. Nos from those who knew better and nos from those I didn't think knew better. It's easy in an Instagram, celebrity, and loud, loud world to assume most people live in the kingdom of Yes. Even the marginalized who make it make it sound like they won't take no for an answer. But the great majority of most of our lives is no. Sometimes it's not yet or not quite or tomorrow or someday, but most of us don't have that sort of futuristic information. We learn to live with no. 

I think about the disciples today, on this Good Friday. The king who they thought would take a throne is dying on a cross and it is darkness, darkness all around.

This is a no. 

No matter how you rationalize or rush to remember and remind that we're Sunday people, they weren't. Not yet. They were still Friday people and Saturday people. They were hearing the darkest no of their lives and no takes a while to heal from, so I understand all the doubt floating around on that first Easter morning. 

I will always be grateful for Easter mornings, for Resurrection Sundays, and for pinks and blues and spring greens. But I also feel a deep sensitivity for those for whom Sunday still feels like a Friday or Saturday. For those whose ears are so tuned to no, they can't imagine a yes. This is most of us, if we're honest. Even the pastors and theologians and church staffers who will wear pink or gingham ties and go to bed bone tired Sunday night from serving. Most of us know the light is coming and is here, in part, already. But we'll all head back into Monday and most Mondays feel like walking among a people in darkness who haven't yet seen a great light. It is good work, but it is hard, and it reminds us all to say and keep saying, with our ancient brothers and sisters, "How long, O Lord?" and "Come quickly." 

The King has come and is coming again. But today, on this Good Friday, and tomorrow on this Black Saturday, and in a few days on a mostly ordinary Monday we still see in part dimly. I need reminders that the full light of life is coming, maybe you do too. 

A few months ago a pastor at my church paraphrased from the Westminster Catechism during communion. He said, "As surely as I can taste the crumbs of this wafer and the juice that washes it down, this is how sure my salvation is." I think of this every week now, as I take communion: "My salvation is as real as the crunch of this wafer, as real as the sweet sharpness of the fruit of the vine." As often as I do it, I have to remind myself because I am a forgetting sort and a busy sort and the sort who gets caught up in doing more than being, in saying more than believing, and in gospeling more than being gospeled.

Before Easter Sunday I am more like Peter but after I am more like Thomas. I need the tangibleness of a Savior who offered to the doubter his nail-scarred hands and broken side: "Touch me," he said, "Thrust your hand into my side and believe." I need the physicalness of a Savior who knows how the nos condition us to disbelieve and who offers us something to feel, to touch, to see, to know. Communion, however rote and however unlike I wish it were done in my circles, is this reminder to the Sunday people and the ones still stuck in Saturday, that he knows our frame, he knows that we are but dust today. And there is a better, more eternal, Sunday coming. 

Full, Not Busy

For a little over a year, I've been making an intentional attempt to call my life full instead of busy. The idol of busyness is one Christians are particularly bent toward worshipping and busyness can also become the shield we use to protect ourselves from adding unwanted appointments to our calendars. For a long time I've tried to curve myself into a person who counts unbusyness as important as busyness, but more and more I'm realizing even that needs some adjustment.

My life is full, but it is not busy. My days are full from the moment I wake until I sleep, but most of the minutes and hours are not appointed to places, people, and things, as much as they simply happen and are kept full, or catch me being attentive to them. I have a lot of margin built into my life on purpose so there is time to pause during something that must be done (for work or home or family) to pay attention to something that might be done (like listening to a friend for a minute or praying with someone or sometimes staring out the back door, like I'm doing right now, at the golden buds of spring and red-tipped Photinias, and listening to the birdsong). If our lives are scheduled to the brim—even with good things—it doesn't give us time to see or appreciate humans as more than an appointment or nature as more than the ground on which we walk from car to coffee shop. My life is full, full and brimming over, but it is not busy. 

Springtime, though, always seems the most full to me. These are the days when I must force myself out of the musts and into the mights more often. Being a freelancer means I can choose my hours, but more work means fewer spare hours from which to choose. I am grateful for the work, though, because I like to work. But I think the discipline of changing my verbiage has helped form this true love of work instead of the begrudging duty it used to feel like. When my life is full, I love my work. When my life is busy, I begin to despise my work. And if my primary work is to be faithful, I want to love faithfulness. It reminds me of Psalm 85:10, 

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.

The beautiful picture of love and faithfulness joining, righteousness and peace kissing is one I want to have threaded through all of my life. I know hardship and trials and pains and disappointments come, but the nearer we come to the coming of our King, the more what is good will begin to join and unite and bring joy. This is good news for the busy people who need to be satiated by their Savior more than their schedules and the full ones who need to see fruitfulness is more about faithfulness than accomplishments. 

Here are some beautiful things I've read in the margins: 

When You Can't Afford to be A Good Mom by Hannah Anderson

Bodies of Truth by Abby Perry

In Defense of Irrelevant Films by Brett McCracken

The Idol of No Pain by Rachel Joy Welcher

And my favorite, Jesus is Coming, Plant a Tree by N.T. Wright

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Living on the Earth We Have

The first two years of marriage, for us, were a whirlwind. Dating was six weeks, engagement another six, moving, moving again, moving again, setting, sort of, into a place we knew we wouldn't stay but what else could we do? We planted a little container garden on the patio of our rental and salvaged the tomatoes the skinny city deer missed and the chile peppers they knew better than to eat. And with the same gusto we had dreamed of staying in Denver we dreamed of leaving DC.

The creeping realization that city life was not for us didn't prevent us from returning to the Dallas area, but the comfort of returning to our church family was all the pull we needed and in two weeks we will have lived in our home for a year. This is the first March in three years I'm not thinking through moving preparations. I pinch myself at the coming wonder of living within the same walls for twelve whole months plus one. And so we have been learning to dream. I would like to say again, but there is no room for dreaming in a world of survival. We have survived three years together and now we begin to dream. 

For months that dream has been routing us toward the hope of someday living on a plot of land, not to own it or to be owned by it, as Wendell Berry says, but to be stewards of it. We know the dream will take years to unfold and we are patient for it. Whiplash will teach you patience is a good friend. But the dream—sometimes—is just good enough. 

Sabbaths are for dreaming, we often say to one another. Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays are for doing, for faithfulness, for being instead of going. But on Sabbath we dream. No limitations and no realism. We feed our dreams on Sabbath because God knit those dreams as surely as he knit us—even if they will never be realized. One week we are farmers and another we are church planters and another we are city-dwellers. One week I found an old retreat center for sale in the Adirondacks and we dreamed for a moment of stewarding it and what we might do with all that beauty. If our friends are sharing our space on Sabbath we tell them they can dream too and we'll water it, tend it, see where it might go for a day. We who were perishing for want of a vision, come alive within it. 

On Saturday morning, we measured our back yard space, mostly concrete with slivers of earth on the margins and a lima bean pool in the middle. Then we spent the day weeding and tilling the margins and building 18" cedar wood raised beds. Our muscles ached and my skin was radish red by evening. The beds are still empty, awaiting dirt this evening, plants in a week or so, and roots in a few more weeks. But we stood back and admired our work, remarked to one another how much we enjoy hard work, and have felt the strange inklings of rootedness begin to take. 

"The act of putting these here and the planting to come," he says, "makes me feel more rooted here, regardless of what God does with our future. We're trying to be faithful, to establish wholeness from this concrete yard in Flower Mound, Texas. We're trying to take part in its redemption now." It reminds me of what the poet Gary Snyder said, "Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” 

One of the most insidious lies to ever enter the Christian faith is that what we do on earth has no place in the new earth. That "It's all gonna burn," as a friend once joked while we walked the coast of Maine on a brisk November day.

All creation is groaning and we are too, that's more the truth, and these groanings are too strong to ignore. The groaning leads some to the city and some to the country, some to shepherding and some to sheep-herding, some to gardening and some to cooking, and sometimes it leads us to do the best we can with what we have today. And then to dream on Sundays of the earth to come. 

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